Titans vs Falcons Preview

It will no longer be the marquee matchup of Vince Young vs Michael Vick. The Vick-less Atlanta Falcons struggled in their first three games but defeated the Texans last week to improve their record to 1-3, heading into Sunday’s game against the 2-1 Tennessee Titans, who were idle last week.
Tennessee has taken advantage of the bye week and will be relatively healthy for Sunday’s game. LB David Thornton, G Benji Olson and P Craig Hentrich have all missed practice time with strained backs but are expected to play.
Field: Grass. Forecast: Partly cloudy, with a high near 89°. Southeast wind 5-10 mph.
Atlanta Scouting Report:
Overview — The Falcons slow start can possibly be attributed to several factors, including a coaching change and the distractions from the ongoing Vick saga. They certainly have the personnel to have a better record than their 1-3 record suggests.
Offense — New head coach Bobby Petrino has installed a more wide open offense, in some ways similar to the Titans’ last opponent, the New Orleans Saints. Petrino has turned the keys over to new quarterback Joey Harrington after the departure of Vick and the results seem to be relatively positive so far. Harrington was much maligned in Detroit and Miami, but Flying High‘s Gerald Laskowski says he has turned the Falcons around. The stats certainly bear that out. Harrington has a very good 71% completion percentage and a 98.2 passer rating. Last week, Harrington completed 23 passes to seven receivers with a 79% completion rate and a very impressive 121.7 passer rating.
Michael Jenkins had two receiving touchdowns and Roddy White had seven receptions last week. Pro Bowl TE Alge Crumpler is a dangerous weapon, especially in the red zone. Petrino doesn’t mind going with four-wide sets and letting Harrington throw all over the field.
Alex Gibbs and his zone blocking system are gone and Atlanta is trying to make a transition to a power running game. The Falcons led the league in rushing the last three years, but now rank 22nd. The one-two punch of Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood have not yet combined for 100 yards in one game.
Atlanta ranks 14th in the league in passing offense but is tied for 27th in scoring, with a paltry 14 points per game.
Defense — The Falcons 4-3 defense is loaded with the names of Pro Bowl players, including RDE John Abraham (three times), MLB Keith Brooking (four), SS Lawyer Malloy (four) and CB DeAngelo Hall (two). The star of their defense is none of the above, however. That honor goes to up-and-coming star SLB Michael Boley, who is second in the NFL in tackles. Keep an eye on him, he won’t be hard to miss.
Atlanta is tied for 17th in the league in scoring defense, they’re 12th in pass defense and 23rd in rushing defense, The Falcons gave up 311 yards passing to the Texans last week.
Keys for the Titans:
1. Run the ball, then run it some more. I hope Norm Chow has been having sweet dreams this week with visions of running the ball down their throats and counting first downs like most people count sheep. The Titans have the second-best running game in the league, while the Falcons are 23rd trying to stop the run. Pounding the rock is a no-brainer.
2. Pressure Harrington. He takes a lot of three-step drops to get rid of the ball quickly in the new Falcons offense, but it will still be helpful for people to get in his face. When Harrington drops back into the pocket, he needs to be hit as often as possible.
Matchups to Watch: Titans LT Michael Roos vs Abraham and RT David Stewart vs eighth overall draft pick LDE rookie Jamaal Anderson should both be good to watch. LG Jacob Bell will be going against third-string DT Trey Lewis, a rookie sixth-round draft pick. C Kevin Mawae vs MLB Keith Brooking should be a classic matchup of two veteran Pro Bowlers. How much are Brandon Jones and Roydell Williams developing? One of them, usually Jones, will face the volatile Hall on nearly every play.
Connections: Atlanta backup tight end Dwayne Blakley was in the Titans 2004 training camp and by all accounts outperformed second-round draft pick Ben Troupe. Only Troupe’s draft status was responsible for Blakley’s release. Falcons backup QB Chris Redman, formerly Petrino’s QB at Louisville, was also in the Titans camp, albeit briefly, a few years ago. Titans CB Nick Harper is from Baldwin, GA.
Prediction: The wise guys say the Titans are favored by eight and a half points, which doesn’t make me feel too comfortable at all. I like the Titans to win, but by a lesser spread.
Tennessee 27
Atlanta 20
For a look from the Falcons’ viewpoint, please check out Chase Kuech and Gerald Laskowski on MVN’s Flying High.

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